The Immigrant

(USA 1917)

The Immigrant is quintessential Charlie Chaplin: funny, cute, and touching, it entertains while criticizing the social conditions of the day — here, the treatment of immigrants in “the Land of Liberty.” You decide whether all that much has changed in a hundred years.

Written and directed by Chaplin, The Immigrant follows his Tramp character on a boat bound for the States. He meets a fellow passenger, a beautiful young woman (Edna Purviance) traveling with her mother (Kitty Bradbury), and he has the perfect “in” when money is stolen from her purse. Sparks fly, but unfortunately the two potential love birds are separated by U.S. Customs agents as soon as they reach New York Harbor.

Once in the New World, the Immigrant has some trouble making ends meet. He finds a quarter on the ground one dreary afternoon and heads to a restaurant where a hostile head waiter (Eric Campbell) gives him a hard time. By chance, he sees the young woman from the boat and invites her to his table for beans and coffee (yuck!). Soon realizing that the quarter slipped through a hole in his pocket, he tries to impress her while stalling on the check to avoid ejectment.

The Immigrant starts off rocky — literally: the boat rocks back and forth, lending itself to some nice physical comedy with passengers sliding across the floor, juggling moves, and dishes sliding across a table. Thankfully, the rocking stops just before it becomes annoying. The scene in the restaurant is fascinating both for the character development and the physical choreography. This is a sweet story, an early romcom with a happy ending — and it’s downright charming a century later.

In 1998, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Immigrant “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Albert Austin, Henry Bergman, Loyal Underwood, William Gillespie, James T. Kelly, John Rand, Frank J. Coleman, Tom Harrington, Janet Miller Sully, Tom Wilson, Tiny Sandford

Production: The Lone Star Film Corporation

Distribution: Mutual Film Corporation

24 minutes
Not rated

(YouTube) B+

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